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Hundreds rally for same-sex marriage on Monday night

Beneath the monument to Thurgood Marshall with the engraved words “Equal Justice Under Law,” around 800 advocates for same-sex marriage rallied on Lawyer’s Mall on Monday evening.

Organized by the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition, which consists of several state and national organizations, the rally and lobby day  – which flooded House and Senate offices with 15,000 signed postcards urging support for the bill — came as supporters continue to round up the votes needed to pass the bill in the House of Delegates.

Similar legislation failed last year after House leaders sent it back to committee without a vote when it appeared the necessary votes were not there. Gov. Martin O’Malley admitted that supporters are still a few votes shy of the 71 needed for passage in the House.

Taking the podium to chants and cheers, O’Malley spoke passionately about his support for the bill, saying it all comes down to dignity.

“There can be no freedom of religion without freedom of individual conscience. And there can be no freedom of individual conscience unless we treat one another with respect,” he said.

O’Malley also expressed his wish to end the “yelling and the shouting,” stating that there was a better way forward for the state.

One Republican supports it

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, who made headlines last spring as the only Senate Republican to vote for the bill, also spoke at the event. He expressed no regret in his vote last year, which caused him to resign his position as Senate minority leader.

“This is an issue about freedom, liberty, and equality,” Kittleman said.

Candace Gingrich-Jones, a gay rights activist who is also the half-sister of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, encouraged supporters to stay in the fight long and lobby hard in the days ahead.

“We can’t choose who we’re related to,” she said, “but we can choose our representatives.”

After the rally, lines stretched around the House and Senate office buildings as activists waited to lobby their representatives.

Carrie Evans, the executive director of Equality Maryland, the leading gay rights organization in the state, said the turnout was affirming and energizing, but much work was still left to be done.

Many legislators and activists believe the bill could be voted on as early as this week, as the governor and Democratic leaders move to shift their focus to issues concerning the budget.

“I think that the desire within the legislature is to deal with this issue now because the schedule forces some of the fiscal issues to wait until later in the session,” Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said. “Now is a good time to bring forth an issue like this because there is the adequate time to devote to it.”

Del. Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick, said after Monday’s House session that there is just enough votes to stop the bill — even if it passes in the committees.

“I believe they are still short of the votes needed to pass the bill,” Schulz said. “We are going to do our best to make sure marriage stays defined as one woman and one man,  but it is going to be close.”

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